Who didn’t in­vent it?

From fon­due to the pocket knife: eight sup­pos­edly Swiss things that ac­tu­ally came from some­where else.

Bulletin - - Contents - Com­piled by Mathias Plüss Il­lus­tra­tions by Elena Xausa

These things may seem Swiss, but they are ac­tu­ally from some­where else.


It’s con­sid­ered the na­tional flower of Switzer­land – and there’s even an air­line named af­ter it. Edel­weiss also in­vokes the feel­ing of home for peo­ple from Aus­tria, Bavaria and South Ty­rol. But the lit­tle flower ac­tu­ally orig­i­nated on the high steppes of cen­tral Asia, mi­grat­ing west dur­ing the last ice age and creep­ing up the moun­tains af­ter the ice crust melted away.


At least the lo­ca­tion is right: Moun­tain climb­ing may have been in­vented in Switzer­land, but not by the Swiss. The Bri­tish were the first to climb the high­est Pen­nine Alps in the mid-19th cen­tury and founded the world’s first Alpine club. They al­most al­ways took Swiss moun­tain guides with them on their bold ad­ven­tures, how­ever.


Fon­due may now be the na­tional dish of Switzer­land, but it’s been a sta­ple in the French and Ital­ian Alps for cen­turies. The cur­rent recipe, with just cheese and wine, was likely first made in Savoy, in what is now France. Pre­sum­ably it spread from Savoy to west­ern Switzer­land, where it quickly be­came very pop­u­lar.


Hu­mans prob­a­bly dis­cov­ered how to make cheese soon af­ter the do­mes­ti­ca­tion of graz­ing an­i­mals more than 10,000 years ago, when faced with the task of pre­serv­ing great quan­ti­ties of milk. It’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble that even older traces of cheese pro­duc­tion will be found in the Alps one day, but the old­est clear ev­i­dence of cheese-mak­ing comes from present-day Poland about 7,500 years ago.

The cog rail­way

Eng­land pi­o­neered this as well. In 1812 the world’s first cog rail­way be­gan op­er­a­tion in the low­lands there. The United States was the first to climb up a moun­tain, open­ing a cog rail­way on Mount Wash­ing­ton, New Hamp­shire, in 1869. It wasn’t un­til 1871 that Switzer­land opened the Vitz­nau-rigi Bahn – a highly suc­cess­ful pro­ject that trig­gered a moun­tain rail­way boom in Europe.


No one knows who in­vented this card game that has be­come Switzer­land’s “na­tional sport,” but it was cer­tainly not the Swiss. Mer­ce­nar­ies from Holland brought the game to Switzer­land at the end of the 18th cen­tury. The words “jass” (jack) and “näll” (the sec­ondbest card) orig­i­nate from the Dutch.

The pocket knife

Here we have to yield to Aus­tria: The old­est known jack­knife, from Hall­statt in Up­per Aus­tria, is 2,500 years old. An­cient Ro­mans used pocket knives as well. The fa­mous Swiss Army knife, on the other hand, was in­vented in the 19th cen­tury.

The cuckoo clock

Amer­i­can ac­tor Or­son Welles helped fuel the myth that these clocks are orig­i­nally from Switzer­land. In the 1949 film “The Third Man,” he im­pro­vised a mono­logue claim­ing that “in Switzer­land, they had broth­erly love, they had five hun­dred years of democ­racy and peace – and what did that pro­duce? The cuckoo clock.” In truth, the clocks are char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Black For­est. Where the first cuckoo chimed the hour, how­ever, is un­known.

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